Culture and Habits of Mailing Lists and Forums? Are they reconcilable?

Continuing the discussion from Replacing Mailing lists: Email-In:

My big concern is less about spam (this can be handled on the technical level and with moderators) and more about culture and habits - in the little time I have spent here on meta and experimented on, I have already seen that it can be incredibly hard to combine the two worlds. People simply think about email differently than they do forum posts, and the technical issues involved in making the user interface and functionality work more or less equivalently might simply not be worth it.

I see @codinghorror often making minor tweaks to my forum posts (thank you!) to clean up formatting and to move them to where they make sense. Today I sent an email in to my forum and even wrote it in a forum post style by editing heavily in gmail to make sure it’s comprehensible without reading down through the history of an email thread, but it still needed some editing after landing in the forum because the quotes didn’t transfer properly (first lines of all quoted text was not quoted in the post but was in the email).

So as discussed elsewhere on meta, the best approach to converting people over may be to just come up with a migration path for upgrading mailing lists that 1) moves everybody over to discourse groups with access to categories and 2) archives the mailing list and makes it read-only. Instead of spinning up a mailing list, we start a group and category, write the intro topic and then use the INVITE button there to invite people to join it.

This is a tall order and may take time, however, since it means convincing the folks who spin up a mailman list when they start a new project and those that are used to participating in mailing lists from the comfort of their own email client. In the meantime, the more we can do to ease the transition and bring in people who are used to mailing lists, the better. The welcome email, notification format, and web interface already go a long way to doing that… but there is likely more we can do to avoid freaking out the thousands of people we want to bring into discourse. :smiley:


This is awesome. Thanks for putting some thought into this. The human usage factors of mailing list software or any type of community software are a big challenge.

Is there any way for a Discourse Admin to create Discourse accounts for people with just their email address?

One common use of a mailing list is to get updates about a physical group such as a soccer club or a ballet club. For example, we have a party on Thursday, let us know what type of food you’re bringing. The most common way to get the emails is that everyone sends their email to one person and then the list admin manually adds all the emails in. I was looking for this feature in discourse, but could not find it. Do you know if it exists?

I like your comments because they contain actionable ideas to solve human behavior challenges.


The “invite” button at the bottom of every topic, and the “invite” tab on your user page (with a button as well) are exactly this functionality. Try them out!

You do need to be trust level 2 or staff to invite though.


Thanks @codinghorror - that is the invite button I was referring to above. As discussed elsewhere, this functionality is not yet working for private groups but is being worked on. So I was going to wait until the next update to try this again and learn more precisely how it works. But yes, I think that invite button might well be the “gateway drug” to entice mailing list folks to come on over and join discourse forums. :wink:

The invite button only really works for inviting one or two people, however, and does not really help the listowner who wants to move a mailing list over to a group on discourse because they won’t necessarily come. This is happening to me right now on Kabissa… I have a core team of about 15 people I am trying to entice over to help me learn about discourse, and so far only a handful have moved over on their own!

Ideally I would want to impose this on these 15 people and just import them to discourse and add them to the group. This is a common requirement, methinks, and the functionality that would make this easiest for most people is a CSV import, much like Mailchimp, CiviCRM etc and other tools that folks are familiar with for managing contacts.

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I believe it is available for private categories now, @sam made improvements so invites can also include an “invite” into the private group that you need to be a member of to even see topics in that category.

Previously we disabled the invite button on topics in categories that are private for this reason, but they can be enabled again.

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This looks good - was my impression as well and I will wait for the next update before I try it. I’m still at I’m also not in any private groups here on meta so even if you have it I can’t test it. :slight_smile:

One question, though: is there a way to limit who can do invitations? some groups we will want anyone to be able to invite others to look at topics or join the group, but for others the owner will want to have more control/oversight over who’s in the group. In any case they might want to at least know what’s happening and who’s in the group!

I’ll be testing use cases relevant to Kabissa over on the Kabissa discourse and will let you know how it works out and what I learn.